Some important questions around BC subsidized housing have risen recently in light of the social housing projects proposed in Nanaimo. A particular concern to a group of citizens is the effects on their neighbourhood as supportive/transitional housing is planned at Uplands Drive and Hammond Bay road (the lot behind Fire Hall #3).
To understand what is going on, it is good to know what has happened to the role of BC Housing.
Prior to 2001, the provincial government owned and operated affordable housing units for a variety of people including seniors and people with disabilities. As the years progressed, the government decided that it wanted to sell off or “leverage” the lands to private developers who in turn would build new units in a P3 (public private partnership) agreement.
Then the government decided that instead of running the new buildings themselves, they would be managed by non-profit societies, registered as charity organizations. This entailed the formation of another group:
“BC Non-Profit Housing Association (BCNPHA) ~ The BC Non-Profit Housing Association is an umbrella organization of non-profit housing societies that manage affordable housing developments across the province. The BCNPHA takes a leadership role in representing the non-profit housing sector’s interests to government and the public.”
BC Housing exists on paper and they even have a website but it has been effectively gutted, an empty shell of a government department.
Pacifica Housing, which is slated to operate the Uplands building, is registered as a charity. According to their financial information filed in 2011, they received $ 4,210,368 in funding from the province and had $ 5,897,197 tied in property “not used for charitable purposes or administration.” 1 They also have a “donate” button on their website www.pacificahousing.ca.
What has been the effect of this housing policy?
You only have to look at the former Little Mountain Housing Project in Vancouver to understand the ramifications of these changes.
Little Mountain Housing Project was established in 1954 as the first public housing project in British Columbia. For more than 50 years, Little Mountain, consisting of almost 200 households, provided subsidized rental housing for low and moderate income families and seniors. In 2007, the buildings and land was sold to Holburn Group under the new province-wide housing policy. 2
There are nine towers planned at ten to fourteen stories, while the rest of the density is spread out between four to nine stories. Holburn only paid the province for land zoned at four stories. This increase in land value is called “land lift.” Unless the City attempts to recoup this value, the money will go directly into Holborn’s pocket as extra-profits, over and above the ‘regular’ profit rate of 15%.
Holburn has not yet built the 200 social housing units to replace the ones demolished in 2007. They now estimate that it might be constructed by 2017.3
Under this scenario, it is easier to understand why this as yet undisclosed developer wants to construct a 35 unit building in the north end of Nanaimo. What price did the developer pay for this land?
1 Financial information from www.cra.gc.ca Charity Listing
2 Thomson, Thomas Michael. The death and life of the Little Mountain Housing Project : BC’s first public housing community. Master’s thesis, 2010, UBC.
3 Witt, Andrew. (2012, January 16). Little Mountain: Why the Struggle for Social Housing is More Pressing Now than Ever. Retrieved from www.spacingvancouver.ca